Groups sue FAA to seek air tour plans for national parks

Groups sue FAA to seek air tour plans for national parks

October 4th, 2017 by Associated Press in National Tennessee

FILE - In this Monday, Aug. 8, 2016 file photo, visitors look at lava from Kilauea, an active volcano on Hawaii's Big Island, as it flows toward the ocean in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park near Kalapana, Hawaii. Hawaii residents and an organization representing federal workers filed a lawsuit against the Federal Aviation Administration on Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017 seeking to force it to do something about tour helicopters buzzing their communities and national parks across the country. (AP Photo/Caleb Jones, File)

Photo by The Associated Press /Times Free Press.

HONOLULU (AP) - Hawaii residents and an organization representing federal workers on Wednesday sued the Federal Aviation Administration to force it to do something about tour helicopters buzzing their communities and national parks around the U.S.

The lawsuit filed by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility and Hawaii Island Coalition Malama Pono asks the court to order the FAA to draft either air tour plans or voluntary agreements governing air tours for seven parks within two years.

Bob Ernst lives along the flight path of helicopters taking tourists to see lava inside Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. The rancher and farmer said the helicopter noise starts before he eats breakfasts and lasts all day.

"It's really nerve-rattling. It's offensive. It makes your life miserable," said Ernst, who is a founding board member of Hawaii Island Coalition Malama Pono.

FAA spokesman Ian Gregor said the agency doesn't comment on pending litigation.

The lawsuit said the National Park Air Tour Management Act of 2000 requires the FAA to prepare an air tour plan, or develop voluntary agreements with air tour operators, whenever someone applies for permission to conduct a commercial air tour over park. A 2012 law created an exemption for parks with less than 50 flights per year.

But the complaint, filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C, said the FAA hasn't created plans for any park since the law was passed 17 years ago. It's reached agreements for air tour companies to voluntarily follow rules at two parks.

The lawsuit asks the court to order the FAA to either draft air tour plans or to develop voluntary agreements governing air tours at parks in Arizona, California, Hawaii, Montana, Nevada, Tennessee and Utah.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park recorded 15,489 air tour flights in 2016.

Surveys found helicopter noise was audible in 98 percent of the wilderness areas of the park, said the park's superintendent, Cindy Orlando.

"There basically isn't a single location in the park where a visitor can go and be guaranteed of hearing only natural sounds," said Orlando, who is not part of the lawsuit.

Orlando said the Park Service doesn't comment on pending legislation. But she said her agency's long-held position is that it wants an air tour management plan.


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